“Uh huh. Yep. Oh yes. Fascinating.”
I try to appear as though I’m fully engaged on this Zoom call with a client, out in New York.
Meanwhile, my daughter is on the toilet, yelling at me to wipe her bum.
I’m trying so hard to wrap it up.
I’m trying so hard to say all the things that will bring this conversation to an end. “So, in conclusion….” and “Well, this was great.”
The screaming escalates to a full-on cry fest.
“Moommmmmmyyyyyy! I neee-heeee-heeee-heeee-heeeeeeed you!”
Finally. The call ends. And I storm into the bathroom.
“I’m here. Just chill!”
If I were forced to come up with a few variations of what hell looks like…..this would be one of them.
Trying to focus. Trying to do adult things. Trying to earn a living.
And there is a child who has somehow gotten a hold of a glue stick and has decided to “paint” all of her Barbies with it….over in the next room.
Quarantine life is one hell of a life-fuck.
And yes, we are all doing our part here. And oh the joys of more family time.
But, Jesus. There has got to be some kind of scale out there that can measure the affect this is having on our mental health.
Is this reeeeallly the better option, guys?
The number of times I’ve exclaimed….. “I never signed up to be a full-time teacher!”
“Stop stealing marshmallows! I can hear you in there!”
“For the love of God, don’t spray my laptop with the hose!”
It is a juggling act beyond all juggling acts.
And the worst part? The guilt that goes along with it.
The feeling of having to ignore your children. And yet somehow keep them busy, educated, and off the couch for more than 5 minutes at a time.
The feeling of failure. Like I’m not keeping up. Like I’m being a horrible mom. AND a horrible business owner.
My kids are constantly glued to screens.
And yet somehow, I’m STILL not getting any work done.
I’m making 23 snacks a day. It’s all I do.
That, and make in-app purchases. Seriously? You need to buy that hot air balloon in order to keep playing the game? I guess.
(Maybe it will buy me 10 more minutes)
In order to cope, I end up working at crazy hours of the day. 5 am. 11 pm. Because half my morning is spent getting gum out of my daughter’s hair.
I feel like I’m not doing anything well. Because my life has been thrown into a blender, and put on high-speed.
And it’s messy as fuck.
This pandemic has turned me into such an asshole mom. I snap. I loose my temper. I (maybe) give my son the finger behind his back, because he’s humming the Jurassic Park theme song for hours on end.
I have silent screams in the bathroom.
And I give time-outs like candy-canes on Christmas.
I would love to resign to the fact that….if I keep them alive, that is sufficient. But somehow I can’t.
Mom guilt is bad at the best of times. Now? I feel a bit like the Wicked Witch of the East. Flattened like a pancake.
I struggle to get by. And I tell myself….if you just set down this guilt. Shelve it. You’ll be much better off.
You’re doing the best you can.
And I try. But it keeps sneaking in the back door.
I don’t remember parenting ever feeling this difficult.
And truly? It is pure madness.
Especially when the only thing I’m eating is…..peanut butter sandwiches for lunch…..again.
And what’s crazy? Is I start layering guilt on top of guilt, like a nightmarish taco dip.
I feel guilt about secretly wanting to escape to the woods, and just stick this thing out by myself.
I feel guilt about wanting to be free of my children.
Guilt for not savouring these moments, like I’m supposed to.
And it’s because I’m falling short of my own impossible ideals.
Lower the bar, babe.
And while you’re there? Grab a glass of wine.
When this is all over, we’re all gonna get t-shirts that say, I Survived the COVID-19 outbreak. And no one will be more deserving, than parents.
And when that day comes, I hope I can say that one of the biggest lessons I learned from this whole thing, is how to have a little self-compassion. How to make good use of my emotional energy. How to be ok with “good enough.”
Because Jesus, we’re all just trying to steer our way through this crisis. One plate of Oreos at a time.
I love this time of year. I love it, because the sun rises in sync with my own energy. I’m an early bird, and when I see the peek-a-boo of light from behind the curtains, it feels……friendly. And warm.
Typically, I greet the morning with a crack of fresh air. A sip of tea. And a cozy blanket.
It is peaceful.
On a normal day.
But this morning? Not so much.
I’m tapping away on my laptop, when my cell phone lights up. It’s ringing. It’s the father of my children. It’s 6:48 am.
Huh. That's weird.
He’s a night owl.
It used to annoy the fuck out of me that it would take an entire marching band to wake the guy up in the morning. And even then.
I pick it up. He sounds wide awake. Which isn’t like him at all.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“We’re all ok. But….we just had a break and enter.”
The kids were in the house.
Of course they were. It couldn’t have been the night they were with me?!
My son was the one who heard the shatter of glass. He said, he knew what it was, because, well, he’s played a video game or two with that sound effect.
I feel a wave of panic. Then anger. Then sadness. Then guilt.
It all wells up. Builds. Darkens. Then falls like rain.
I race over to the house. As if there’s something I can do to make what just happened, go away.
And yet, the 30 minutes it takes me to get there is enough to spin a web of thoughts.
When your nightmare becomes reality
This. This exact plot line is the kind of thing you envision when you’re thinking about getting a divorce.
It’s the “worst case scenario” that you dream up.
It’s the “what if” game you play.
It’s the kind of shit that makes you think…..maybe I should just put up with this. My kids need me.
I can remember crying and crying, thinking about the idea of one of them calling out for me in the middle of the night after a bad dream….and not being there.
I had always been the one to catch their vomit. What if their dad couldn’t make it in time?
The weight of that choice? To NOT be there?
It is a horrible one to have to make. It can be paralyzing. And sweat inducing. And it will wake you up at 2 am. Then take the rest of your night’s sleep hostage.
And somehow. I chose it.
With aaallllll the agony and guilt that goes with it.
What could have been
But the thing is. You never get to see the choice you never chose.
You never get to read the alternate ending.
Sometimes I think about what it would have felt like if I stayed. Hollowed out. Empty. Shattered on the inside.
My kids. Wondering why mommy always has a headache. Always going to bed early. Trying to escape it all. Trying to live in the wake of falling OUT of love.
But maybe that’s just “worse case scenario” thinking, on the other side of the coin. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad.
Or maybe it would have.
And this is the trap that, I think, I lot of us fall into. The second guessing. The questioning. Did I make a huge mistake?
ESPECIALLY when guilt rises up. Like a fiery breath. In moments like this. When the “bad guys” storm the castle.
I should have been there. I should have been the one to act as the armour. The shield.
I think back to when I was a kid. And how I was deathly afraid of the idea of burglars. “Gate night.” The night before Halloween, I would barely sleep. Shaking in bed.
I think about my son. Now traumatized by the asshole who decided to play “cops and robbers” for real. I think about how I would have felt if I had to deal with my own anxieties, without my mom there to wipe away my tears.
Sure, there comes a point in every child’s life when the rainbow of goodness….the euphoric blindness…..is broken.
But fuck! You want so desperately to protect your children from pain. From reality. From the dark side of the moon.
The worst part?
This nightmare of this morning? It comes on the heels of a month-long stint of “I miss you mommy” phone calls that I get at bedtime.
The tears that roll down his little cheeks.
I don’t know what to tell him. I don’t know how to explain that….this path? Believe it or not? It is sunnier than the one I didn’t choose. I think.
I resort to poop emoji’s. And fart jokes. And I try to get him to talk about the things that went well that day.
Stillness is never more painful in the seconds after I get off those phone calls.
There is no smooth sailing
And so when I pull up to the house, I am carrying all kinds of baggage. I walk in the front door, and I hug my kids with the kind of tightness that only ever seems to emerge in times of unease. And yet, as it’s happening, you think…..why don’t I hug them like this every day?
My eyes travel to their father’s. I walk over, and wrap my arms around him.
The echoes of arguments…….the sound of the front door slamming, again….it is all muted.
It is “I’m sorry.” It is “you did it.” It is “I love you.” It is “I’m scared.” United as part of the “good guy" squad.
This experience? It is equally a reminder of how horrible this path is, and beautiful this path is.
The choice that was chosen? I’m on it.
And whether it it was this path, or the other one. It’s a bumpy one.
I smack my lips together. I force a smile. Mmmmmm……this beat juice is……delicious…..
5 years ago, I bought a juicer.
I had watched a documentary about a guy who practically lived off of juice alone. And I was immediately sold.
Liquid gold, I thought.
THIS is what’s missing from my life!
I made crazy concoctions using aaallllll the vegetables that children deem “disgusting.”
And for 2 solid weeks, I convinced myself that…..seriously! The second you take a sip, you can just feeeeel the nutrients hitting your cells.
My enthusiasm faded.
And 2 years later, I discovered the juicer at the back of my cupboard.
The second I saw it, guilt washed over me.
Oh ya. That thing! Jesus. I should really use it.
I pulled it out, and got back into the routine for a solid 7 days.
Then hopped off the train again.
The juicer effect
THIS? Is the juicer effect. The experience of letting guilt drive your behaviour.
And ANY time you do that? The behaviour dies a (not so) slow death.
And I mean come on. We all have a “juicer” in our lives. And no, I don’t mean Brad Pitt in Fight Club…..ladies….(hayo!)
I mean the thing you’re doing, because you feel guilty NOT doing it.
Most often, this appears in the form of exercise.
“OK, ok, ok. I’m having this LAST sprinkle donut, and then it’s GO TIME. For real. I’m doing this.”
You buckle down hard. For a bit. But then the second those cringy, uncomfortable, guilty feelings start to fade?
You go back to being the “real you.” The default setting. The person you believe yourself to be, deep down inside. Even if the person you believe yourself to be, isn’t so hot.
Because it is our BELIEFS that determine our actions….and it is our actions that make up the screenplay of our lives.
And let’s be real. Our willpower will only ever last as long as it takes our pain….our guilt….to ware off.
It’s like holding your breath under water. Your true self is bound to surface. It must.
And your true self? Is who you believe yourself to be.
It’s like the guy who practically aced his SAT test, after goofing off and skipping class his whole life.
“Huh….I guess I’m smart.”
He starts putting in the work, gets his MBA, and becomes a billionaire.
Years later, he’s told he was given the wrong score. It was actually way lower.
But who cares?! He believed himself to be “the smart guy.” And he changed his actions to reflect that belief.
If you’re telling yourself, “I’m lazy.” “I’m not good enough.” “I’m unloveable.” “I’m not smart enough…..” Guess what? You start acting (even subconsciously!) in ways to support those beliefs.
You wanna be a better version of yourself? Good! Me too!
Do a little digging, and check out what you BELIEVE to be true about yourself.
But how do we “get at” our true selves?
Strip it Down
You wanna get at your belief system? You’re gonna need to strip it down, baby.
And I mean like……the equivalent of taking off alllll your make-up, and letting your hair down, wild and loose.
Who is THAT person?
Ask yourself. What do I believe about myself?
And don’t just go with….I’m a mother….a baker….a candlestick maker.
Wring that lemon OUT, and get to the good stuff.
It takes a bit of willingness to get raw and real.
But once you peek behind the curtains of who you SAY you are……that’s when the magic happens.
Do some journalling. Create stillness. Get outside. Listen to the breeze. Go for a walk. Stop multi-tasking for like…..20 mins.
My trick for digging deep? Have a creepy conversation with yourself. I do this all the time. I talk to myself in the car. Or when I go for a walk. And I legit put words to my thoughts. Out loud. Like a crazy person.
It’s like….the difference between THINKING “I love you,” and SAYING “I love you.” It means something totally different in your head, than it does out loud. So speak the truth, darling. It might sound different than it does in the echoes of your mind.
Build it up
OK, you’ve got a better idea of who you BELIEVE yourself to be. Now what?
HERE is where you define who it is you WANT to be. And this? This! Is equivalent to getting behind the wheel.
None of this “I’m a juicer” bullshit. That ain’t you! And you know it!
Once you start getting clear on where it is you want to go, your actions, your motivations, are less likely to be jerked around by guilt, and other hoodlum emotions like anxiety, and fear.
Do the same zen-ing out steps you did to find clarity on who it is you believe yourself to be, and start visualizing an upgraded, first-class version of yourself.
Like, the version of yourself that would be played in a movie-version of your life.
But don’t just do it once. Come on. You love re-runs. I know you do.
Re-run the shit out of your vision. Journal about it every morning. And tell other people where you’re headed.
THAT is how you start making those new beliefs, a little more…..true, real, and engrained. You’ve gotta do a little mind gardening, and plant that seed. On purpose.
Last step in this 1-2-3 cha-cha? Give your brain proof that you’re smart enough to ace your own SAT test.
Set yourself up with new experiences in order to prove that…..hey…..I AM the person I want to become…..just a few paces behind.
Sure, maybe you’re not rockin’ a six-pack….but you’re someone who works out on the regular.
Maybe you’re not a NY Times Bestselling author…..but you write a blog post. Every. Fucking. Sunday. Ahem.
Take action as a means towards a goal
Get behind your success by tackling what is motivating your behaviour. Beliefs about who we are can hold us back….or propel us forward. And REAL progress….REAL steps forward will hinge on your ability to take action as a means towards a goal….rather than a means to avoid pain.
Stop the juicer effect in it’s tracks, baby.
Unless you love sipping brussels sprouts. No judgement.
It’s a funny thing.
Because it doesn’t look the same from one person to the next.
Some are quick to turn emotions off, and easily move on. Some linger in suffering, and just make darkness the new normal. Some shove their emotions under the bed, refusing to even look at them. While others, still, walk towards a place of healing, only to realize that a single thread still ties them to their pain….at which point, a difficult choice is made to cut it.
The latter? That’s me.
In this instance anyways.
When you refuse to release your grip
6 months ago, I said, I’m not waiting for you. Don’t think I’m just gonna sit on the sidelines while you figure your shit out. I’m out. I’m done. You had your chance.
6 months later? There I am. On the sidelines. Waiting.
How did I get here? I thought I said I wasn’t going to do this.
Sure. Closure is not necessarily a single event. One and done. It can come in waves. Rolling in with joy. Then out again with sadness. In with peace. Out with agitation.
And trust me. I’ve been riding the tide.
But there is only so much healing you can do, when you refuse to release your grip.
The fear of letting go
And it’s funny, because you know, on paper, that unfurling your fingers will give you freedom. But sometimes, we cling to the familiar, even if it brings us pain. We get used to the pain and just put up with it, so that we can still kind of have the thing we know we should drop. Maybe it’s better to have a semblance of it, than to not have it at all. Like driving a smashed up sports car…..because technically we can still say, I drive a sports car.
To let go completely feels like forgetting. It feels like writing it all off. It feels like dismissing the good parts of it. I don’t know about you, but I hate the feeling of regret. And somehow, this feeling of release feels a little bit like regretting the whole thing ever happened. If it meant so much, shouldn’t I cling to it a little longer? Shouldn’t I hold the broken pieces, so I don’t lose the memory of it?
But truthfully, what good is shattered glass?
You hold it. And almost without knowing how it happened, you realize you’re bleeding.
The tie that binds
Over the past while, I have been paralyzing myself by holding onto the potential of what could have been. And the funny thing is, I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Until one day I did. What the hell. I’ve been walking this whole time, and I haven’t gotten anywhere.
I see a thread. This wasn’t there before, was it? It’s so tiny. It seems so flimsy. How could this be the thing that is holding me back?
The playlist I can’t erase.
The house key I can’t throw away.
The phone number I can’t delete.
The one question I need answered.
The goodbye I need to say.
These things are so tiny. And yet, intertwined, they are made of iron. Or steel. Or hope.
They symbolize everything. Because that’s all that’s left.
They are potent, because they are a distillation of memories and joy and freedom and carefree abandon.
And they have the strength to prevent true closure. True healing.
And it is so counterintuitive. Because to hold on, is to ensure an inability to feel all those wonderful, positive, beautiful things again. If but in a different shape.
The known vs the unknown
“But I want THIS!” my inner child screams. I don’t want that other flavour of ice-cream. I want this one! Because I know I’ll love it.
It’s the fear of the unfamiliar. The unknown. The chance that every new fucking flavour of ice cream I try, will only ever be compared to the original, and won’t possibly be able to surpass it in deliciousness.
But THAT is the chance you must take in order to discover new forms of joy.
To cut the thread is the only way to write the final sentence of the book. And to find closure.
And so I do.
I cut it. All in one go. And it stings so badly, I feel like I’ve cut off a part of my own body.
The pain has been a part of me for so long. And like the feeling you get when you first step off a treadmill after running for a good half an hour, it is strange to walk without the weight of something pulling me in the other direction.
I see myself, in slow motion, stumbling, falling forward. Suddenly jolted from a state of tension. I am lighter. But I am disoriented. Thrown off by the airiness of my gate. I feel like maybe I’m walking on the moon. Surely gravity has a stronger pull than this. But no. I’m just used to walking with the weight of the world on my shoulders.
Like a phantom limb, I feel as though I must still be tethered to the pain. But I reach back, and feel nothing at all. I am….unattached. Wild and free.
It is lonely here. And scary. Somehow I feel the wind on my back, just a little more.
But for me…….this is it.
We are notorious for changing our outfit five times before leaving the house for a dinner party.
Its just gotta feel right. You’ve gotta nail the right vibe.
But also? We role play a BUNCH of scenarios in our heads, while wearing each outfit.
“Oh, this old thing? You’re too kind.”
But this?! THIS?! Is something else entirely.
It’s been 30 minutes, and my 4-year old daughter is STILL getting dressed. She’s going through a phase right now. And it is testing my patience. To. The. Max.
There is a pile of clothes on the floor. And nothing is quite right.
She hates strings. Tags. Seams that don’t align. Pants that are too tight. Sleeves that are too short. Socks that are “too socky” (wtf does that mean?!). And shoes that are too pinchy.
She would be 100% happy if she could walk around completely naked. But I’m pretty sure that would raise some eyebrows.
“Good god, Clara! You’re so picky! Just throw something on and be done with it already!”
I can’t hold back my frustration any longer.
But then I stop. And realize. Huh. Wait a minute. I’m telling her a story.
A story that she’s a picky girl.
And just like any other story I tell her……Little Red Riding Hood…..Cinderella……she’s internalizing that shit. Big time.
What we think, we become
I start to think about the stories in my own head. The things people have told me over the years.
She’s good at ballet.
She’s a horrible baker.
And I wonder. How much of it is innately true? And how much of it have I simply believed to be true?
Ah yes. The stories in our own heads.
What we think, we become.
And it is worth pausing, to ask ourselves….what do we think about who we are? And where did those stories come from
We are all a collection of stories
Like a collage….or a patchwork quilt…..we a pieced together, with stories. Stories from our grade-2 teacher….our first boyfriend…..our mother…..our favourite grocery store clerk.
We see ourselves through others eyes.
And although those stories can often lift us up, and give us confidence…..they can also weigh us down, and hold us back.
And THAT is worth digging into.
Because it is our own happiness that is at stake.
The stories that hold us back
For me, it’s the simple stuff. Like the story……“I’m not a runner.”
Or “I suck at playing the piano.”
I’ve challenged both of those stories over the past few weeks. And on both fronts, I’ve actually surprised myself.
But it’s the centre of the tootsie-roll pop you really wanna get to.
It’s the soul-defining stories. The stories that are so deeply buried, you start hitting liquid hot magma as you uncover them.
These are the nasty little stories that are most likely holding you back from true happiness.
And as I’ve been journeying down this deep dark cave of wonders (cue the Aladdin theme music!), I’ve noticed two types of stories that hold me back.
I need to be who they say I should be
Oh sweet Jesus. We all just want to be liked, don’t we?
It is our worst nightmare to be the outcast. The uncool one. The one who gets eye rolls behind closed doors.
And truthfully, some of those deep-seeded stories about who we are, come from society at large. Have you played the board game, Life, lately?! It is a mandatory hard stop to get married. Don’t worry. When I played with my kids the other day, I let them choose whether they got married or not. And I was pleasantly surprised when they each chose to get married….to a member of the same sex. “Girls rule!” Clara said.
I cannot even begin to tell you the amount of pressure I felt to uphold the identity of “wife,” even though it went against my own happiness. Hell, I was more nervous to talk to my sisters, than I was my own husband, about the divorce. Almost. I was that scared about what they were gonna think about me.
So often, we sacrifice our own happiness, just to “fit in.”
But maybe being the wild flower provides even more happiness.
This theory? Currently in testing mode.
I need to be who I said I was
Did you ever have a buddy-ol-pal who said to you….. “fine then. I’m not your best friend anymore.”
Sure. You get all offended. You sulk about it.
But then you find a new best friend. Or maybe your friend comes crawling back once she sees you have cookies in your lunch bag.
Either way. Life goes on.
And truth be told, that friend can absolutely change her mind. She has every right to.
All too often, we are sticklers about holding people prisoner to their identities.
And one of the darkest stories I’ve been holding onto, is the story that I am a liar.
I told my husband, “until death do you we part.”
I told him, I would love him forever.
And I changed my mind.
That one’s been plaguing me (completely under the surface) for a while now. There’s massive guilt around not being who I said I was going to be.
And in this time of healing and self-love, I’m coming to accept that…..it’s ok to change your mind about who you are.
Your happiness is dependent upon your ability to let go of the obligation to be who you said you were. Because maybe, just maybe, the label doesn’t fit anymore.
Be picky about what stories you hold close to your heart
Our minds are more powerful than we give them credit for. They hold our past, our present, and our imagined future, all at once. And like a library, they are full of stories.
Be picky about what stories you hold close to your heart. As picky as a 4-year old girl. Because some of those stories? They are holding you back from true happiness.